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THE TENSION OF FAITH CRISIS AMONG CHURCHES TODAY: THE CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST PERSPECTIVE

THE TENSION OF FAITH CRISIS AMONG CHURCHES TODAY: THE CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST PERSPECTIVE

BY
PAUL, SAMSON PREYE
Email: preyepaul@gmail.com

A LECTURE DELIVERED AT THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS’ WEEK CELEBRATION, (UHIELE CHAPTER), SEMINARY OF ALL SAINTS, UHIELE EKPOMA, EDO STATE, MAY 1, 2018

PREAMBLE
I would have loved to say all protocol duly observed but there are some personalities we cannot just sweep away by the summary of words and as such, I acknowledge the lovely presence of the HOD of Theology, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Matthew Ihensekhien, who is always open to share his wealth of knowledge with others and to learn from others too. He often tells us that “no one has the monopoly of the Truth.” Thus, other churches namely, Anglican Communion, Methodist, Baptist, Redeem, Winners, Christ Embassy, Omega Fire, Souls Repairers Ministry and particularly, the Celestial Church of Christ, has some elements of the Truth, which we shall be discussing today.
It gives me a great pleasure to be here today to share with you what I know as a former member of Celestial Church of Christ before I was converted to the Roman Catholic Church in the year 2005 and got baptized the following year at St. Anne Catholic Church, Burutu, Bomadi Diocese.  I find it necessary for you to know what we have and hold tenaciously to the tenets of Celestial Church of Christ.
The topic before us is on the faith and practices of the Celestial Church of Christ. We shall discuss the followings:  Admission, Festivals, Worship, Religious Obligations, Ordinances and Socials which also have their basis in the Bible.
Note that for the sake of this paper I will be speaking like an insider of Celestial Church so that the message can be well brought to our understanding.
A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF THE FOUNDER OF THE CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST
The founder is St. Samuel Bilewu Joseph Oshoffa, who was born in 1909 in Porto Novo, Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) of a Nigerian mother and a Dahomean father. His father, a Methodist, had many wives in his desperate search for a son. None came. He then prayed that if God would give him a son, he would dedicate him to His service, just as Hannah did [1 Sam. 1:10-11]. His prayer was answered and the son was named Samuel. In 1951, Oshoffa moved to Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria. It was there, soon after the 1954 Makoko Harvest Thanksgiving Service that Jesus Christ appeared to him and confirmed that, “All your services of worship in the church are acceptable unto the Father”. Oshoffa was reported to have had 14 wives and 54 children before his death in 1985.
THE CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST
The Celestial Church of Christ falls into one of the five blocs of CAN known as Organisation of African Instituted Churches – OAIC. The Celestial Church of Christ is a spiritual church which was established on the 29th of September 1947 in Porto Novo, Republic of Benin through the founder of the Church, the Late Prophet Samuel Oshoffa. He founded the church after being lost for three months near Porto-Novo in Benin. The church now has its main offices in Bénin and Nigeria. Five percent, or 400,000, of the 8,000,000 people of Benin are Celestial Christians. The Divine Order according to the church, the founder, Prophet Oshoffa was called by God on the day of total Eclipse of the sun in West Africa, when he was in the forest of Dahomey, to purchase Ebony wood being a carpenter and timber trader. He responded to God’s call. Before his death, it was reported that he resurrected people from the dead.

DOCTRINE
The Celestial Church of Christ has a very wide scope of doctrine which I am afraid cannot be adequately covered within the period of a lecture of this nature. I shall endeavor in this lecture to highlight only the salient ones that are easily misconstrued.

1. ADMISSION INTO MEMBERSHIP OF CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST
There are no preconditions for admitting any willing person into the membership of Celestial Church of Christ. However some steps need be taken to ensure a clean break between the old and the new system of life. Our Lord said to Nicodemus in John 3:3-5, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit”. There are three vital steps: Sanctification, Baptism and Anointment.
(a) i. Sanctification: Sanctification is the first rite a prospective member of the Church should undergo. In this first case, the following are needed: water, sponge, soap and a stick of candle which when lit is symbolic of the spirit of God like tongue of fire which descended on the first apostles to sanctify them on the day of Pentecost – Act. 2:1-4. Following immediately the sanctification of a member is the sanctification of the person’s place of abode. It should be noted that in Celestial Church of Christ, candle is used to replace lamb, goat, sheep prescribed in the scriptures Prov. 20:27.
ii. Purification: The second category of sanctification practiced in Celestial Church of Christ is the purification exercise that a woman undergoes after her monthly period, and after giving birth to a child. This is very important and God does not take it lightly. Lev. 12, Lev. 15:16-18; 15:19-24; 29-30. Many people discountenance it but Christ established it beyond reasonable doubt: Mark 5:25-34. The weight of the impurity was so much felt by Jesus Christ that he could not resist asking who touched him. The Apostles-also warned the Antioch converts to steer clear of ‘blood’ Acts 15:29.
b.  Baptism: A prospective member may be presented for the rite of baptism only after he has participated in the worship and adhered to the rules of the church for 12 months Acts 11:26. That length of time is for the person to examine the doctrine and the mode of worship thoroughly before taking the plunge. Baptism therefore is the first rite performed to admit formally a worshiper into full membership of the church after which such a member becomes spiritually equipped and elevated to partake of holy communion and join other members of the church in spiritual works according to the prompting of the holy spirit. Baptism in Celestial Church of Christ follows the immersion pattern, the type which Christ our Lord underwent in Jordan through the hand of John the Baptist – Matt. 3:13-17.
c. Anointment: A member is not considered ripe for the rite of anointment in Celestial Church of Christ until such a person has steadily worshipped in the Church for three years, two years after baptism. Exod. 30:30-33.  By the time a member is being presented for anointment by the prophet, there should be adequate evidence that such a person is a committed Christian worshipping in Celestial Church of Christ.
2. FESTIVALS: In consonance with one of the statutes of God to mankind Exod. 23:14, Celestial Church of Christ tenet gives prominence to three festivals: Christmas; Easter (Palm Sunday, Passion Week featuring washing of feet, Holy Communion: and Christ’s resurrection); and Harvest. (Worthy of note is that some of the prophets make use of the Catholic Ordo).
i. Christmas: The world Congregation of Celestial Church of Christ assembles annually on 24 December at an appointed place as directed by the Lord Himself through our Pastor and founder, Saint S.B.J. Oshoffa to celebrate. It is an event in Celestial Church of Christ which every committed member looks forward to with fervor.
ii. Easter: To Celestians, this is celebrated in remembrance of the Exodus, the time of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage as it is also the time the deliverance of God comes through our Lord Jesus Christ to humanity. Exodus 13:1-4; 34:18. The significance is that the Passion Week marks the time when the only begotten son of God surrendered his life as atonement for the sins of the world. (Jesus Christ is often referred to as the firstborn of the father) Heb. 1:6.
The rite of washing of feet in Celestial Church of Christ has a great significance. By the rite, it is believed that the eternal curse Gen. 3:15 on the descendants of Adam is removed, John 13:8. All the signs of the curse should be washed off before one can enter the Kingdom of God.
A full service and administration of Holy Communion follow washing of feet on Holy Thursday evening. Mark 14:22-26; Lk. 22:14-20; 1 Corin. 11:23-32. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are ye if know these things and do them” John 13:17. Again he said, “Do this in remembrance of me “Lk. 22:19. It has become statutory in Celestial Church of Christ worldwide to administer Holy Communion on quarterly basis – three monthly exercises.
3. WORSHIP
Worship is given a prime of place in the doctrine of Celestial Church of Christ. The prime of place given worship in Celestial Church of Christ is reflected both in its frequency, mode, and intensity. It is right to say that we observe three-hourly time of prayer 6 a.m., 9am., 12 noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m., 12 midnight (psalm 119:164). However, the structure of all the services is fairly standard: Procession→ Adoration →Confession of Sins → Thanks → Intercessory Prayers → Sermon → Thanks offering → Blessing → Grace → Recession.              Apart from that, (a)   there is an altar area surrounded by seats for church elders. On the altar is a candleholder with 7 stands. The altar is located to the East. (b)   The choir stand is to the right of the altar area. (c)   The rest of the church is arrayed such that females sit on the left (North) and the males on the right (South). (d)   There are entrances from the West, South and North in the area outside of the altar zone. (e)   Worshippers wear white garments (soutana) but are not allowed to wear shoes when in their soutanas and inside the church. (f)     Incense, candles, holy water, palm fronds and perfumes are used in worship and rituals. (g)   Worshippers pray with their heads bowed to the ground.[1]
Daily – 5.30 am. Morning devotion; 9 p.m. Evening devotion.
Wednesday – 9 am. – Special service for barren women and those who seek job.  Sometimes, little children are called upon to flog away the spirit of barrenness from the women. 6 pm. – Worship. For Wednesday 9 am. Special service for barren women, participants would have one candle, one bottle of water, three different types of fruits like pawpaw, orange, mango, banana, coconut, etc. After a short service they are placed before the Lord with fruits, bottle of water and the lit candle placed a little distance from the head and covered with alter cloth and sanctified water is sprinkled on them. When each of them wakes up, she takes and eats one type of fruit and the bottle of water.
Friday – 12 noon – 3 pm. Special service for prophets, dreamers (Interpretation of dreams), etc. The special service for prophets, dreamers and those seeking the power of the holy spirit, participants would have one candle and a bottle of water. After the service, they are placed before the Lord and covered with alter cloth. They take their water when they wake up. While at 3pm. Special service for pregnant women. During the cause of the special service, the prophet in a prayerful mood covers the women one after the other with his holy garment. While at 3 p.m. Spiritual prenatal clinic for pregnant women, participants would have one candle and a bottle of water. After service and prayer for safe delivery, they are placed before the Lord and covered with altar cloth. They take their water when they wake up.
Sunday 10 am. – Worship;  6 pm. – Worship. (Maximum of seven hours of worship. During the Sunday service, there are two preachers. The minor prophet will be the first preacher while the major prophet concludes the worship with prophecy and deliverance. During the cause of the deliverance section, the worshipers often run to the river for some rituals [2] because it is believed that the first place the Holy Spirit demonstrated His sanctifying power was on the river/water – Gen. 1:2). This very act is what I will call Disconnection of Disconnectors.[3]
And, at other services, our act of worship is in kneeling with face to the ground touching the ground with our forehead when the bell rings three times and we chorus in unison, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts” Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:8. We should note that the bell is very significant as it represents the voice of God. After the chorus is sung, there can be another song for imploring the intercession of Archangel Michael.
THE CREED
Below is the Creed we pray during Sunday Services in Celestial Church of Christ:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. Was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven. And is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Celestial Church of Christ, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
4. RELIGIOUS OBLIGATIONS
Our religious obligations in our church are many and varied. The principal ones which God does not play with are thanks offering, almsgiving and tithes.
Thanks offering and tithes take a prominent place in our worship in Celestial Church of Christ. The significance of these in our life is well explained in Malachi 3:6-12. Doing it is blessings and not doing it is curse (but not to the level Pastor Adeboye took it to– No tithe, no salvation). Of equal importance are alms, and freewill offering which is popularly known as collections 1 Corin. 16:1-3. These are sacrifices that are lifted up for blessings. It is from part of those four types of offerings: thanks offering, tithes, alms, and freewill offering called collections that the workers receive their stipend.
5. ORDINANCES
In Celestial Church of Christ, all the laws given to Moses and the prophets are strictly adhered to. Malachi 4:4; Exod. 20:1-20 Matt. 5:17-20. Since repetition is a fixing device, the mosaic laws and Celestial Church of Christ ordinances are brought into announcements every worship day. Our ordinances are categorized for ease of reference viz Food, Drink, Morality, Discipline, and Ritual Cleanliness.
Food: It is forbidden in Celestial Church of Christ to eat Pork; Crawling animals like snake, snail, and species of fish that have no scale. Eating blood is also forbidden Lev. 3:17; Gen.9:4-5; Deut. 12:15-16; 23-25.
Drinks: It is forbidden in Celestial Church of Christ to take alcohol or wine Lk. 1:15; Number 6:1-4. It is also forbidden to smoke cigarette or snuff tobacco.
Morality: Adultery or fornication in any form is totally forbidden. It is forbidden for a man to hug a woman or stay too close chest to chest to a woman 1 Corin. 7:1-2; Rev. 21:8.

Discipline: It is forbidden in Celestial Church of Christ
For women to leave their head uncovered I Corin. 11:5-6; 10
For men and women to wear transparent dress or use transparent material to sew their sutana;
For women to mount the pulpit to deliver sermon or lead congregational worships 1 Tim. 2:11-12;
For women to adorn their lips or nails (foot or finger) 1 Peter 3; 1 Tim. 2;
For men to allow their hair to be too long 1 Corin. 11:14; for male and female members to sit side by side in the temple of God;
For members to merry-go-round at night.

RITUAL CLEANLINESS
It is forbidden in Celestial Church of Christ
To carry a corpse into the temple of God;
To bury the dead close to the temple;
For women in their monthly period for the first seven days to move near the temple or touch any holy thing
For women after giving birth to children to enter the temple until the time of her purification 40 days after child birth;
To eat anything offered to idols.

6. SOCIALS
There are a few vital things that can pass for tenets in our marriage and child-christening ceremonies.
Marriage: The aspect I want to highlight in our marriage ceremony is that which shows the union not only of the bride and bridegroom but also of the two families – the families of the bride and that of the bridegroom – consummated under the Spirit of God. The parents of the bride will hold the hand of their daughter and place it in the hands of the parents of the bridegroom giving their daughter not directly to the bridegroom but to the parents of the bridegroom to be adopted as their own daughter. The parents of the bridegroom will then take the hands of both the bride (their daughter-in-law) and the bridegroom (their son) together and give to the elders of the church who then deliver the hands to the officiating minister for solemnization of matrimony. Held within three pillars – the families of the bride, the families of the bridegroom, and the church elders – the wedlock stands a great chance of lasting.
Child Christening: On the eighth day, every child born into a Celestian home is christened. For this ceremony the following are needed: seven types of fruits, candles (2 packets), incense, honey, salt, sugar, and water. Seven of the candles, lit, will be in a bowl of water, which will be placed in front of the prophet who carries the child. At the entrance of the temple, the child will be sanctified by the shepherd and the prophet carrying the child with six other members of the congregation will usher the child into the temple dancing.   One of the sidesmen will carry the bowl in which seven candles are stuck out of which three are lit while another sidesman will be burning incense to lead the child into the temple. In the process of the service, the spirit of God will descend on the prophet carrying the child to give the child a name. The name given to our Lord came from an angel before he was conceived Luke 2:21.
After sermon and collection, seven elders of the church, four men and three women, will stand round the child who is carried by the prophet. The name given through the Holy Spirit will be read out after which water, salt, and honey shall be put into the child’s mouth with words of blessing from the Leader. This is followed by the reading of Deut. 28:1-14 and prayer from the seven elders. When the service is ended after thanksgiving, the congregation will dance round the child, giving him gifts and taking part of the honey, salt, sugar, and fruits.
At the end of the ceremony in the temple, the child is led into the waiting arm of his mother outside the church just as he was led into the temple.
WHY CELESTIAL CHURCH HAS BEEN IN CRISIS FOR OVER 32YEARS
According to Reverend Demola Somorin of the Celestial Church of Christ, Festac Cathedral, in a chat with The Guardian on the occasion of his 75 birthday thanksgiving, has lamented the lingering crisis in Celestial churches that has resulted in the emergence of various factions within the church. He noted that since the demise of the founder, Pastor Samuel Joseph Oshoffa, the church has been divided along different factions. “There are factions in Benin Republic, Ivory Coast and almost five factions in Nigeria alone. This has robbed the church of improvement and progress. This year, Celestial Church of Christ will be 7I years and there is nothing much to show for it because of the factions. Some of the Celestial prophets have left Celestial Church of Christ for other churches as founders.
Currently, the Supreme Head of Celestial Church of Christ International is Pastor Gabriel Ben Omoge,
CONCLUSION
From the above, it can be concluded that most of the practices of the Celestial Church of Christ are dictates from the Lord as directed in the Bible, although, to a great level, wrongly interpreted and wrongly applied by the adherents.
That apart, now that I am a Catholic, I testify that other churches are imitators. I never knew that I will one day embrace the most enduring, original and superior faith, the Catholic Faith. I pray to die a worthy Catholic. So help me God.
To the Catholics, I say, you may not know the value of what you have until you lose it. Please, zealously embrace your Faith. Thank you for your rapt attention. GOD BLESS YOU!

ENDNOTES
[1] It will be reasonable and useful to direct our attention to the following aspects relating to our worship:
Falling on our faces, worshipping God – Rev. 14:6; II Chron. 20:18; Exod. 34:6-8; Matt. 26:39; Rev. 7:11; Rev. 11:16; 4:10.
Gates of our church open continually – Isaiah 60:11-12; Rev. 7:15.
Altar lamp burns continually – Lev. 24:1-2; Exod. 27:20
Candlestick (seven pronged) – Exod.25:31-37; Heb.9:2  Rev. 1:12; 4:5
Table of the Altar – Exod. 25:23; Heb.9:1-3
Communion box – Heb. 9:4
Burning of incense Rev. 8:1-4; Mark 16:1 Lk. 1:9-10; Lk.23: 55-56; Matt 2:11; Exod. 30:34-38.
Use of sanctified oil – James 5:14-l5; Mark 6:13
Walking barefoot and not wearing cap in the Church – Exod. 3:4-6; Rev. 1:14; 1:15. It is also a sign of nothingness of the world.
Loins (Girdle) – Acts 12:8; John 13:4-5; Jer. 1:17
White Garment – Matt. 28:2-3; Rev. 6:9-11. It is also a sign of classless assembly. Equality before God.
Garment for worshippers and priests – Exod. 39:22-29.
Prophets marrying more than one wife – Isa. 4:1. It is due to domestic or pastoral reasons and secondly, it is because their founder, St. Oshoffa lived a polygamous life.
Holy water is blessed through the use of palm branches.
The Holy Rosary is also accepted in the CCC, but it must be blessed by a validly ordained Catholic Priest.
[2] White Garment Churches have great affinity with river. I believe these may be the reasons: (1) God the Holy Spirit: That the first place the Holy Spirit demonstrated His sanctifying power was on the river/water (Gen. 1:2). (2). God the Son: Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan. On one hand, water is meant for baptismal cleansing and (3). God the Father: That river or sea is symbolic. It symbolizes the world where God the Father will come with His Angels to judge both the good and the bad people. In this very “world” there are principalities and powers we must combat with. Thus, the celestian prophets go to the river to dispel the darkness of the water forces disturbing the life and progress of the recipient/client. At this moment, there are some items that the recipient/client carries to the river for rituals, such as, mineral (fanta or coke), biscuits, candle etc. However, some of the reasons one goes to the river to seek favour may include, life partner, childlessness, poverty, power, and so on. Finally, all these rituals may have their devastating side effect(s) sooner or later if not well done.
[3] Disconnection of Disconnectors: The prophet disconnects the evil powers that disconnect the individual from actualizing his/her dream in life. That is, the evil disconnectors are disconnected by the prophet.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Crumbly, Deidre Helen, Spirit, Structure, and Flesh: Gendered Experiences in African Instituted Churches among the Yoruba of Nigeria, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.

Journal
Ibrahim, J., “Religion and Political Turbulence in Nigeria”. Journal of Modern African Studies. 29 (1): 115–136. JSTOR 160995.1., 1991.

Unpublished Material
Ihensekhien Matthew, “Ecumenism,” Lecture Note For Theology Three Students, Seminary of All Saints, Uhiele Ekpoma, Edo State, Nigeria, 2017/2018 Session.

Internet Sources
“Celestial Church leader, Omoge, urges prayers for Buhari – The” … sunnewsonline.com › celestial-church-lea… 26 Aug 2017. Accessed 29/4/2018
“Facts About Celestial Church Of Christ – Religion – Nigeria …” www.nairaland.com › facts-celestial-chur… Accessed 29/4/2018
“Mode of Worship – Celestial Church of Christ” celestialchurch.com › full-width-page Accessed 29/4/2018
Bada A. A. (Rev.),  “Lecture on the Tenets of Celestial Church of Christ – Celestial …” http://celestialchurch.com/document/lecture-on-the-tenets-of-celestial-church-of-christ/ Accessed 29/4/2018 (Primary Source).
Oshoffa Samuel – Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org › wiki › Samu…   Accessed 29/4/2018

 

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